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Is ‘grandpa' a title just for relatives?

Dear Amy: My mother insisted for a while that my children call her boyfriend “grandpa.”

I refused, explaining that only the biological parents will be referred to with grandparent names, and that her boyfriend and my father's wife are to go by their own names.

I have never felt close to her boyfriend or my stepmother, and view them as potentially transient people in my children's lives (I have no idea how long my parents will actually remain with these people – they don't have a history of stable relationships).

The problem is this: We have some friends who are very dear to us, who are older and act in every way more like grandparents than my parents' significant others. I owe them a lot and would like for my children to call them “grandpa” and “grandma” out of respect.

My mother would be completely offended if she witnessed this. Do you have a tactful explanation I could provide to her?

Am I justified in my reasoning, or should I let no one be called grandpa except the biological parents?

Choosing My Relations?

Dear Choosing: According to you, your rule of naming only biological grandparents “grandpa and grandma” is hard and fast, except when it isn't.

Using your own reasoning, you might wonder if the older friends whom you would like to honor with this endearment might be uncomfortable being called “grandma” and “grandpa” by children who aren't biologically related to them.

Children in some cultures call all older people “auntie,” “uncle,” “grandma” or “grandpa.” You can further refine this by introducing special people in your kids' lives (biologically related or not) as “Grandpa Joe” or “Grandma Jane.”

If you choose to have a set of unrelated people referred to as “grandma” and “grandpa,” but refuse this privilege to the partners of your mother and father, of course they will be offended. There is simply no tactful way to avoid this.

These endearing titles are just words. Your kids will form emotional attachments to those who return their warmth and attention, regardless of the biological connection.